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This Is Your Brain in Love
Humans are social creatures, and a number of studies have shown that people in relationships have advantages than their single counterparts. A 2000 study by the U.S. Bureau of the Census found that people in long-term relationships live longer, even when they adjusted for socioeconomic factors. In 2002, the American Journal of Sociology released a review study which showed that uncoupled people have higher levels of depression, anxiety, mood disorders, adjustment problems, and are more commonly suicidal than their coupled counterparts. Another study, published in the journal PLoS ONE in 2010, found that feelings of euphoria associated with romantic love active the brain's reward system and reduces physical thermal pain. The study's participants, who were less than nine months into a new relationship, were asked to hold a heated block and then asked to complete three tasks: look at pictures of their partner, look at pictures of equally attractive strangers, and complete a word-association distraction task that has been shown to reduce pain. Participants reported less pain with both the partner pictures and the distraction test, but only the partner pictures activated areas of the brain associated with reward systems suggesting love could be a drug-free pain remedy.
But why? Being in love has been shown to release hormones in the brain that actually make you happier. A 2010 study by the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, looked at the brains of people in relationships and found they produced more cortisol, a stress hormone that regulates and moderates the effects of stress on the body. Romantic love also activates dopamine-rich areas in the brain according to a 2005 study in the Journal of Neurophysiology. These are the parts of the brain associated with reward, desire, addiction and euphoric states, basically all the things that make people feel really good. If you're single, however, don't despair: there have been numerous studies showing that satisfying relationships with family and friends have similar health benefits to being in love. Strong friendships have been found to relieve stress, which in turn contributes to healthy coronary arteries, gut function, insulin regulation, and immune system. Having a network of important relationships can also make a difference in the elderly, reducing the risk of dementia in people over 75. The most positive, healthy relationships and friendships will have the best benefits for our health, while toxic friendships with negative people will have the reverse effect. Some research has even found that couples going through big fights have lowered immune systems.
5 Ways Relationships Are Good for Your Health (Live Science)
"Whether you're lovesick or sick of love, it's hard not to think about relationships and all they bring during this time of the year."
The health benefits of strong relationships (Harvard)
"For many of us, the holidays mean family gatherings, getting together with friends, and participating in special religious, community, and workplace activities. Such occasions are an opportunity to check in with each other, exchange ideas, and perhaps lend a supportive ear or shoulder."